1 Timothy 3

1 Paul begins this next section specifically speaking about church leadership. He begins by stating that it is unequivocally true that those who wish to work in Christian ministry desire a good thing. Certainly the want to minister is necessary if one is going to succeed, and can be taken as a sign that the Holy Spirit is so prompting the person. However, desire is not the only thing that qualifies one for ministry, as the rest of this section describes. Paul may have wanted to encourage the aspiration of some to be ministers by stressing the honorable nature of the task. During that time, and still in many places of the world today, being a Christian leader was a dangerous task, and being recognized as such opened the person up to public ridicule and persecution. It is fitting that the word for "desire" or "aspire" means, "to stretch oneself to grasp something." Being a good Christian minister involves both self-sacrifice and constant personal growth.

The word here for "bishop" or "overseer" does not apply to any specific office, ministry, or rank. Many have noted that other leadership words such as "elder" or "pastor" are used interchangeably, and therefore these words do not refer to any hierarchy like those often used in churches today. The word here generally means, "to look after," and in some uses outside of the Bible, it refers to one who takes care of the sick. Thus, it possibly applies to all kinds of Christian ministers and leaders, not just those who might be considered the primary leaders of a church.


Paul then begins his list of qualifications for an overseer.

  • Above Reproach (Blameless) - The word used here referred to one who was skilled at defending every part of his body. In this context it means one who is not guilty of any immoral conduct.
  • Monogamous - The literal meaning is "a one-woman man." While polygamy was practiced in the East, and was never specifically denounced in the Old Testament, Paul makes it a point of disqualification for Christian leadership. In 1 Cor 7:32-34, Paul expresses his concern over marriage distracting people from full devotion from God. It would easily follow that polygamy would further complicate one's personal life, making his ministry that much less effective. Paul may have also been intending to exclude those who had divorced and remarried from ministry in relation to Jesus' escalating this state as a form of adultery (Mat 19:9). So, while polygamy is not Scripturally unlawful, and there are guidelines for divorce, both situations are viewed in this verse as deviations for an irreproachable life. Some have speculated that this verse requires Christian leaders to be married. This is highly unlikely, since Paul and several other early church leaders were single, and Paul advocates singleness for those who have no sexual desires (1 Cor 7:8-9). Some have supposed that this verse would bar widowers who had married again from ministry, but there is no indication that such a situation has any moral or legal detractions. As with verse 5:9, this verse implies that the married man had been faithful to his wife, never promiscuous.
  • Temperate - The Greek word means "sober," that is, free from intoxication. Obviously, a mind unclouded by alcohol is going to be better able to listen to and understand God, and make wise choices while leading others.
  • Self-controlled (Prudent) - Literally, "of sound mind." This refers to one being reasonable, and not controlled by passion.
  • Respectable - Proper outward appearance and behavior. Those with extreme behaviors, for example clownish, grave, boisterous, recluse, etc., should all be avoided for leadership positions. Ministers are to be people-persons who can truly relate to those he is caring for. He should not have a slovenly appearance, but should dress appropriately.
  • Hospitable - A "lover of strangers." A Christian leader should demonstrate the virtues he teaches, for example, being kind to strangers. In Paul's day, this included taking travelers into one's home, feeding them, and giving them a place to sleep. Caring for another's needs while keeping them company is a social skill revered throughout Scripture.
  • Able to Teach - This implies both knowledge of the subject and the ability to communicate well with others. It is obvious, for example, that one who preaches sermons must have these skills, but those in other ministries will likely have opportunity to teach about God in more private settings.
  • Not Addicted To Wine - The original word covers both the consumption of wine and its inebriating effects. As in the last verse, alcohol can adversely affect one's judgment and behavior. While no place in Scripture places a general ban on drinking alcohol, it is quite clear that becoming drunk off it is not pleasing to God.
  • Not Violent - A good leader is able to control his anger and not physically harm others. The combination of a short temper and violent tendencies would be very bad for the Church's goals of love and compassion. This verse might also encompasses the idea that a leader is not entitled to "take the law into his own hands" by acting as judge, jury, and punisher.
  • Gentle - He must be patient with those who are slow to learn, have trouble with obedience, or even disagree on various matters.
  • Uncontentious - Abstaining from quarrels and fighting. This directly aimed at those who loved to argue about points of the Law, most of them of little significance in spiritual matters. There is no need to cause unrest or even split churches over such things. One goal of the Christian community is to live in peace with one another. Part of this involves downplaying the differences that make no difference.
  • Not Greedy - A person whose main goals in life include making lots of money is not a good candidate for Christian leadership. Instead of self-sacrifice, such a leader is more apt to try turning his "ministry" into a business, completely losing site of the main goal of Christianity, which is to know Christ. Catering to the rich, ignoring the poor, and deluding people with the idea of trading money for salvation are all symptoms of a ministry started by such a leader. Unfortunately, such ministries do not help anyone spiritually.
  • Household Managers - Whether single or married, a potential minister must be able to demonstrate that he can manage his own life before he is allowed to advise others. He must be able to provide for himself and all the family members he is responsible for. He must be able to manage his money and time effectively, and demonstrate the potential to lead others without leaving his family behind.
  • Obedient Children - If a candidate for ministry has children, one can gain a better idea of how he will lead others. If he can handle the interpersonal conflicts between the members of his family well, resulting in a peaceful home life, he might also be able to handle the complicated relationships in a larger group. One question that is raised with this verse is whether someone with a deviant child would be disqualified for ministry. Questions like that should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, if a child is causing disruption in the family, the leader may be too distracted by this turmoil to minister effectively.
  • Dignified - The potential candidate should be able to garner the respect of others without extreme behaviors such as tyranny or violence. The ability to be rational and reasonable in leadership is important. Positive influence is much more desirable than forced obedience (although the latter is sometimes required with children). The placement of this phrase indicates that Paul is specifically speaking of respect within the candidate's own family. A leader spends (or should spend) more time with his family than any other group of people, and they will know him best. People can "live different lives" in public and in private, but if he has the respect of his family members, it is likely that he is indeed consistent in his interactions with people.
5 The Christian Church is intended to be like a large family, and the best possible father figures should head it. Many clues about someone's leadership skills can be found in their family relationships. If a person has a problematic home life, it will negatively affect his ministry. Paul obviously intends to keep inherently poor leaders out of church ministry.
6 Those who are new to the faith, from "neophyte," meaning, "new plant," should not be considered for leadership positions. Paul undoubtedly understood from personal experience that this would be an especially difficult consideration for mission churches, although Ephesus was well established by this time. Usually, one goal of a mission church is to have it run by indigenous people. However, in areas where few people have any understanding of Christianity or Judaism and there are no Bibles in their language, the people would not have the background that would be most helpful in preventing heresies from arising, or know how to keep everyone, including leaders, accountable.

In modern times, it can still be a problem. It is difficult for church leaders to resist taking excited, new converts, and placing them in leadership positions. It will always be the case where the church will have more ministry opportunities than willing church members to fulfill them. However, trying to fill a new position with a recent convert can backfire. Paul is specifically worried about pride springing up in the new leader. It is reasonable to believe that if a new person comes into a group and is given important responsibilities that they may immediately suppose that the other leaders think that he has some significant qualities that no one else in the group has. Ironically, this seems to happen more often out of desperation than anything else, but the inflated ego of the new leader may prevent him from realizing this. The new leader may feel that he can use his leadership position to do what ever he wants. Thus, instead of becoming servant-like leaders, he abuses the "power" of his position. He may also think that he has a special gift for interpreting Scriptures and fall into all kinds of incorrect interpretations and behaviors. Paul does not specify a time after converting which someone should be considered for leadership, but the idea is that qualified candidates be mature in the faith, having proven that they have been faithful through various life circumstances.

Training by the current leadership is vitally important, and gives another forum where a potential leader's behaviors and beliefs can be observed to determine if he might make good leaders. Another reason training is important is to prevent apathy. Most new converts are very excited, but they are usually left on their own. Merely attending church on Sundays is insufficient for true growth. It should be the leadership's responsibility to see that each member of the congregation is growing spiritually and socially. A new plant placed in the scorching sun is likely to wither, but a seedling placed in the dark will not do well either.

I have checked several commentaries, and have been surprised to find that none of them comment on the idea that a new convert can incur the same judgment as the devil. It is clear that Satan is condemned because of his pride (Isa 14:12), and Adam and Eve committed the original sin because of pride (Gen 3:6). The most important part of the conversion process is breaking down that pride and confessing our sins and our need for God. Once a person is converted, Jesus indicates that they cannot fall out of grace (John 10:27-29). Certainly, even a believer who becomes proud will cause a break in his relationships with God, but it would seem in other places that this separation cannot be permanent. Perhaps Paul is using hyperbole here to emphasize the importance of not allowing pride to well up again after conversion. This may be similar to the problem John states in 1 John 2:19 where members have appeared to be converted, but in reality they were not. In this case, the "new converts" used Christian training for selfish purposes, which compromised the message of the Gospel. It is obvious that even the apostles could not tell what was going on in the minds of a believer, but Paul is conveying the point that whatever is really inside the person will eventually show itself, whether it is good or bad. Until a person's characteristics are so revealed, the current leadership should not appoint him to a ministry.

7 A candidate for leadership must have a good reputation with those outside the church. If he is known to have trouble with morality in public, then he is more likely to disgrace the church than be an effective proponent of the Gospel. Some consider that this may include his pre-Christian reputation. If he lived a scandalous life before becoming a Christian, he may be tempted back into it. However, that need not be a permanent disqualifier, since the longer he has proven his commitment to good morality, the more confidence the current leadership may have of his character.

While overseers attended to the spiritual needs of the congregation, the deacons ("servants" or "attendants") generally helped with their physical needs (Acts 6:1-7). The roles of these two groups naturally overlap, so the deacons were to have the same qualifications as the overseers. Paul chooses to emphasize four of the characteristics here.

  • Dignified - Serious minded and respectable, not clownish or prone to extreme behaviors.
  • Not Double-Tongued - Truthful and consistent, not hypocritical. The word itself ("double-word") indicates that someone is saying one thing while meaning another in a deceitful manner.
  • Not Addicted To Much Wine - An alcoholic was not to be considered for this position. An inebriated deacon would not be able to carry out his duties properly, nor is he likely to behave in a respectable manner. Wine is not forbidden, but the deacon should be able to show self-control in this and other aspects of his life.
  • Not Pursuing Dishonest Gain - The deacons were entrusted with both the collection of money and the distribution of provisions for those in need. A greedy and dishonest person might seek this position in order to keep some of the money and goods for himself. This detrimental situation was to be avoided, probably by analyzing the candidate's personal financial manners.
9 Paul calls the Gospel the "mystery of the faith," meaning that the major tenants, for example, the coming of the Christ, His death and resurrection, and the salvation available to all by faith, were obscurely referred to in the past, but were fully revealed when Jesus came. Potential deacons must believe in and follow the Gospel, of course. They are to live life consistent with its doctrines, and thus have a clear conscience.
10 Potential deacons are to be able to demonstrate their positive characteristics. This verse hints at that others would be interviewed to verify that they are beyond reproach, that is, that no one can bring an accusation against them. In today's vernacular, this would be called a background check. Undoubtedly, this verse also includes verse 6 above, in that the current leadership should be able to observe the candidate's character to insure that he is mature and consistent. It is the leadership's responsibility to make sure that their congregation can be entrusted to this new leader. Once it is determined as best as possible that the candidate meets the criteria, he should be allowed to serve as a deacon.

There is some discussion in the literature about this verse. The word for "wives" here can also be translated to "women." Some have thus interpreted that this verse refers to women in general. Some have taken it even further to say it is a special verse for women deacons. It is possible, as indicated in Rom 16:1, that there were official deaconesses, but the context of this verse seems to naturally indicate that it is talking about the wives of deacons. A deacon's wife would be helping her husband, and she would likely be present whenever congregation members went to their home to seek help from the deacon.

  • Dignified - The wife of a leader should certainly share some of the same characteristics. She should be a dignified woman, respectable, and without extremes of behavior.
  • Not Gossips - Literally, "not an accuser." This Greek word is the root of the English word, "devil," referring to Satan as the chief accuser. The wife of a deacon is likely to directly or indirectly gain intimate details of people's lives. If she subsequently shares those details with others, she is likely to do irreparable damage in the congregation.
  • Temperate - "Sober." See verse 2.
  • Faithful - to God, the Gospel, her husband, and the congregation. She should not be known as one who betrays others.
12 See commentary on verses 2, 4, and 5.
13 When a deacon serves well, he attains two major things. First, he obtains the honor of those around him. His fellow Christians will be inspired to follow the example of a deacon in selfless service. He might also be highly respected in the secular community, since he would likely help the poor and needy regardless of their faith in Jesus. Second, his confidence in the Gospel of Christ is reaffirmed as he performs service for others. He may not only grow bolder about sharing the Gospel, but also in providing more and better services to a wider range of people.

Some have felt that this verse describes the "promotion" of deacons to overseers. While there is nothing preventing a deacon from later accepting an appointment to another office, the gifts that God has given the individual, be they service or preaching, should determine what position best suits him. To impose ranking and promotions on church offices naturally leads to political rivalry rather than Christian service, as can easily be seen in many church hierarchical systems today.

14 Paul's departure mentioned in 1 Tim 1:3 was not intended to be permanent. He hoped very much to return to Ephesus quickly and continue to minister there.
15 Paul was unsure when he would be able to return, but he felt that the need in Ephesus was so urgent that he had to give Timothy some direction concerning the problems that the church there was experiencing. He wanted very much for Christians to remember that they are in the household of God and the church of God and to behave accordingly. Furthermore, the church is to hold the truth of the Gospel up for the world to see. This great honor and responsibility should not be hindered by discord or misbehavior within the body of believers.
16 The translation of this verse has caused much controversy. The word in question is "theos," which in written versions was commonly abbreviated as theta-sigma with an over line. In one particular text, the Codex A (Alexandrinus), the center stroke of theta and the over line were 1) faint and 2) apparently re-emphasized by a later editor. Some who have developed the Greek manuscripts that most modern Bible translations are based on have indicated their belief that the two lines in question did not exist in the original, making the word "os," or "who." However, it is strange that this version went so far since over 99% of the ancient written manuscripts render it "theos," and all the early church fathers recognized it the same way. Ironically, even the modern translators have trouble making "who" fit in intelligibly, so they render the word "He" instead. Some claim that this translation does not affect any doctrine; since it is obvious the verse is alluding to Jesus' incarnation. However, others take issue with the translation since this verse (among others) affirms the deity of Jesus. Barnes, Clark, and Shue provide a detailed account of the history of this verse.

In this verse, Paul expresses a few of the profound events concerning the Christ. No one can dispute that these are "overwhelming mysteries." They were hinted at in the Scriptures, but not fully revealed until Jesus' time. What one believes about these events will undoubtedly affect his or her behaviors. Faith in these events will more likely lead to godliness (God pleasing activity), especially as one comes to realize the awesome wonder of them.

Jesus was God revealed in the flesh. It is hard to understand how God, who made the Universe and fills it could adequately represent Himself in a human body. He allowed mere mortals to question, accuse, and malign Him. Furthermore, He allowed us to kill Him. However, He was vindicated in the Spirit by His resurrection. Although the miracles He performed were proof enough of His deity and the truth of His message, the final evidence was that He was able to raise Himself from the dead.

Angels saw Jesus before, during, and after His ministry on earth. As Peter expressed in 1 Pet 1:12, the angels have been, and still are, attentive to God's plan of salvation for men. It seems that they, like us, cannot fully grasp exactly how our faith in Jesus' substitutionary death can cleans us from sin, but they remain curious about it. As Paul is suggesting in this verse, the Gospel is amazing.

Jesus presented His message of hope in Judah and Samaria, and even extended mercy to other Gentiles. He charged His followers to continue to spread the Gospel throughout the world (Mat 28:18-20). It is prophesied that members of every people group will be represented in heaven for having put their faith in Him (Rev 7:9).

At the end of His ministry, Jesus was taken up in the Shekinah glory of God - another affirmation of His deity, and evidence that His appearance as a human did not diminish His place in the Godhead in any way. Sinful people on earth surrounded Him, but He was not stained by sin. In fact, it was quite the reverse. His life and death have made it possible for people to be cleansed of their sins before God.